As parents, we want to ensure the best possible future for our children. One day, we are going to hand the earth over to them, and ideally, we want to contribute to the state in which we leave it to them.
You can support your little one to contribute to saving the world around them, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply by introducing your children to small but practical eco-conscious changes, you'll help them to develop environmental responsibility and teach them to care for our planet.
The key to nurturing your toddler’s awareness and love for the planet is to make the activities age-appropriate, active and fun.
We have compiled some no fuss, comfortable and environmentally friendly tips and activities so that you can do your part right now by helping to provide your little one with keen environmental skills and the ability to be somewhat self-sufficient in the future.
It could help save your family some cash, and it just might change the world!
1. Be a good role model
Model environmental responsibility. The simplest of everyday activities can help instil love, care, and stewardship for the earth in our children.
Our kids learn from us - they borrow our values as their own. Pick up stray rubbish as you are walking to the car, volunteer on World Clean-Up Day or create (and use) a simple recycling system for your home waste.
Make conscious choices when purchasing food, clothing and toys, and discuss your reasoning with your children.
2. Let them be outside
We can’t expect our children to form a strong connection to nature if we don’t let them out to experience it!
Take the time to let them run, roam, be dirty and explore. Point out the droplets of water on tiny leaves. Let them take their shoes off. Take a bucket to collect all of the fascinating things that they find. Talk to them about the cycles, processes and the interesting things can find in the garden, at the beach or the local park.
Teach them about native flora and fauna. Watch the birds in the backyard, learn their calls, behaviours and characteristics. Look for nests, get a field guide! Learn the names of the trees in your street, their flowers and how they change. Go outside during all types of weather - observe the seasons, finding the wonder and awe in the changes.
Use it as a time to bond. If it is fun and relaxing - they will naturally form a love for the outdoors. Collect bugs, observe them, talk about their ecosystem, where they live and what they eat. Show them tadpoles and frogs, pick up slimy snails, pick berries and talk about how spiders catch their food in a web. Discuss the interconnectedness of all living things!
Media, such as TV has its place, but it can never replace the real thing. Follow up with a YouTube doco about something you have seen today and or something they may have shown an interest in.
Here's some fun and easy nature play activities you can try with your little one.
3. Compost and worms
Everyone has to eat, and with eating comes food scraps. The beautiful thing about scraps is that they create compost. Most children also love getting their hands dirty, and worms are heaps of fun to dig for!
Instead of throwing your scraps in the bin, create a compost system and a worm farm that your children can spend time building and caring for. This is an age-appropriate task that helps the environment, teaches responsibility and is also plenty of filthy fun!
4. Sustainable craft
Why not get your kid’s creative juices flowing and teach them how to reduce and recycle at the same time? It can be a lovely time spent bonding with your children. Or if you have a toddler like mine, they are happy to create away on their own! All you need is clean items that otherwise would have been dispose of, like egg cartons, milk cartons, plastic bottles, and boxes - the only limit is imagination!
If you need inspiration, Pinterest has an endless amount of child-friendly and eco-friendly craft ideas. Why not build a recycled fortress out of boxes, a recycled bottle rocket or start growing some seedlings in your empty egg cartons?
5. Live off the land
Growing your food is almost like growing your own money! And if kids grow veggies with their own hands, they're more likely to eat those veggies.
There is nothing to lose from starting a garden and teaching your kids to reap the rewards of what they sow. You can do this whether you live on an acreage or in an apartment.
You can create love and understanding of how to produce nourishment in any space. Whether it be pots of herbs on the windowsill, collecting eggs from chickens, or going all out and creating an aquaponics system - your kids will love helping out and being a part of your family’s paddock to table project.
Take the time to plant some trees if you can - have a special spot that you visit regularly. Get to know the animals and plants there - make this spot yours. Connect to it. Visit in all seasons and marvel at the changes.
It is super easy to initiate a recycling system in your home. It's also age-appropriate for toddlers to be involved in the sorting of your waste.
For a simple start, begin with three buckets: one for waste, one for recycling and one for compost. You can make this easy for your toddler by colour-coding or labelling each bucket. You could even incorporate an understanding of sorting "waste" with a simple and fun activity like this one.
7. Spark, discover and support their interest
Simply by having your child help you to sort the rubbish from the recycling, you're encouraging and developing waste-conscious habits. Help your child to develop their nature smarts by doing things that help nurture their interest! Captivate them by sparking and supporting any natural interest and inquisitiveness that they have about our planet.
You don't need to wait until children are older to start teaching them to care for the planet. Taking small steps to create a connection with our earth at an early age will help to foster their love for their world and the living planet. Let them jump in the autumn leaf pile or create artwork from twigs and flowers. Take them camping and talk about the sounds that they can hear. Look closely at plants and talk about how they give us food, wood, shelter and fresh air. Go on a bug hunt, search rock pools at the beach or go bird watching.
If you find that your child shows a particular interest in something, cultivate and encourage it!
8. Keep an open dialogue
Our kids take in everything, and they understand a lot more of what we say than we think. Make a conscious effort to have conversations with them about making sustainable choices.
It can be as straightforward as telling them why you chose to buy the loose carrots at the supermarket, rather than those packaged in plastic. My four-year-old now helps to make those decisions, and actively tries to reduce our plastic packaging purchases because she is aware of better options.
Point out rubbish in your community, and have a discussion about what you could do about it. Talk to them about how it not only looks messy, but also hurts our shared home. Explain why you chose to pick up someone else’s misplaced rubbish and put it in the bin. You will be surprised at what they learn and remember just by talking it through.
9. Dispose of goods consciously
If you have toys that you no longer need, clothes that no longer fit or furniture that is outdated, don't throw them out - regift or reuse. Teach your child about donating to those in need, or even upcycling. I don’t know any grandparent who wouldn’t love an old chair painted just for them from their beloved grandchild!
Kids love giving; they understand the power of a smile. Why not have them help sort clothes that are too small into a bag, and donate them to a second-hand store, or a shelter, or directly to a friend or someone less fortunate? Explain to them that although they no longer need these items, they will be loved, appreciated and be of use to someone else.
This can also help to create empathy and understanding for the less fortunate. You can make this experience more productive by taking your child to your local tip to show them where these used goods would have ended up, and how throwing them out wouldn’t have helped anyone.
10. Let media play a part
There is nothing wrong with allowing your little one to sit for a bit - you can use Netflix, YouTube and the Internet to introduce your child to far away lands, or continue their learning about something that they found that was of interest to them.
You can still teach your toddler about elements of our planet that are out of our reach. If you don’t live by a body of water, you can use YouTube to show them aquatic creatures. If you are miles away from the snow, you can let them dance away to Happy Feet.
Why not show the kids pictures of the deforestation of the Amazon, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and have a conversation about what they saw and why it is a problem?
There are also plenty of age-appropriate Internet games that help your child to learn and practice caring for our natural world.
Your toddler may find love for a part of the natural world beyond your interests. My child loves bugs—all bugs, spiders included! Now, I am not a fan of spiders. Just thinking about them sends spindly sensations throughout my body, but she is obsessed with learning about spiders. I have had to put my fears and non-interest aside to help support hers.
Another critical thing to remember is that although our toddlers are young, they are still remarkable with the amount of knowledge they can take in. We can also learn from the insight and thoughts that they have.
I will never forget when my now four-year-old noticed the trees being chopped down and the land being cleared for a housing development on the way to swimming lessons each week. Every week, she would see that more trees were gone, and ask about it. I told her that people were removing trees to build houses there. She looked at me shocked and asked about where the animals would live and in her jargon started explaining to me how animals, trees, people, water and the earth need to ‘go together’.
The next time we passed, she came up with a solution to the problem. "Mum, why don’t the people build their houses in the trees? Then, the animals and people can live together, and the trees don’t have to die". The damage caused by the need for housing, solved so simply in a four-year-old's mind.
You never know: if you put some time into teaching your toddler how to care for the planet, you may just end up with an eco-warrior on your hands.
Have any other tips for introducing kids to sustainability? Share them with us in the comments section below!
Abbey is a guest blogger and the Chief Editor of Ready Set Mom, a teacher, visible learning coach, nature lover, rehabilitation business owner and NLP practitioner; but her claim to fame is having the best taste in music and the hippest Mom dance moves you have ever seen.